An American Tragedy Chapter 27

The ensuing December days brought to Clyde some pleasing and yet complicating and disturbing developments. For Sondra Finchley, having found him so agreeable an admirer of hers, was from the first inclined neither to forget nor neglect him. But, occupying the rather prominent social position which she did, she was at first rather dubious as to how to proceed. For Clyde was too poor and decidedly too much ignored by the Griffiths themselves, even, for her to risk any marked manifestation of interest in him.

And now, in addition to the primary motivating reason for all this—her desire to irritate Gilbert by being friends with his cousin—there was another. She liked him. His charm and his reverence for her and her station flattered and intrigued her. For hers was a temperament which required adulation in about the measure which Clyde provided it—sincere and romantic adulation. And at the very same time he represented physical as well as mental attributes which were agreeable to her—amorousness without the courage at the time, anyhow, to annoy her too much; reverence which yet included her as a very human being; a mental and physical animation which quite matched and companioned her own.

Hence it was decidedly a troublesome thought with Sondra how she was to proceed with Clyde without attracting too much attention and unfavorable comment to herself—a thought which kept her sly little brain going at nights after she had retired. However, those who had met him at the Trumbulls’ were so much impressed by her interest in him that evening and the fact that he had proved so pleasing and affable, they in turn, the girls particularly, were satisfied that he was eligible enough.

And in consequence, two weeks later, Clyde, searching for inexpensive Christmas presents in Stark’s for his mother, father, sisters, brother and Roberta, and encountering Jill Trumbull doing a little belated shopping herself, was invited by her to attend a pre-Christmas dance that was to be given the next night by Vanda Steele at her home in Gloversville. Jill herself was going with Frank Harriet and she was not sure but that Sondra Finchley would be there. Another engagement of some kind appeared to be in the way, but still she was intending to come if she could. But her sister Gertrude would be glad to have him escort her—a very polite way of arranging for Gertrude. Besides, as she knew, if Sondra heard that Clyde was to be there, this might induce her to desert her other engagement.

“Tracy will be glad to stop for you in time,” she went on, “or—” she hesitated—“perhaps you’d like to come over for dinner with us before we go. It’ll be just the family, but we’d be delighted to have you. The dancing doesn’t begin till eleven.”

The dance was for Friday night, and on that night Clyde had arranged to be with Roberta because on the following day she was leaving for a three-day-over-Christmas holiday visit to her parents—the longest stretch of time thus far she had spent away from him. And because, apart from his knowledge she had arranged to present him with a new fountain pen and Eversharp pencil, she had been most anxious that he should spend this last evening with her, a fact which she had impressed upon him. And he, on his part, had intended to make use of this last evening to surprise her with a white-and-black toilet set.

But now, so thrilled was he at the possibility of a reencounter with Sondra, he decided that he would cancel this last evening engagement with Roberta, although not without some misgivings as to the difficulty as well as the decency of it. For despite the fact that he was now so lured by Sondra, nevertheless he was still deeply interested in Roberta and he did not like to grieve her in this way. She would look so disappointed, as he knew. Yet at the same time so flattered and enthused was he by this sudden, if tardy, social development that he could not now think of refusing Jill. What? Neglect to visit the Steeles in Gloversville and in company with the Trumbulls and without any help from the Griffiths, either? It might be disloyal, cruel, treacherous to Roberta, but was he not likely to meet Sondra?

In consequence he announced that he would go, but immediately afterwards decided that he must go round and explain to Roberta, make some suitable excuse—that the Griffiths, for instance, had invited him for dinner. That would be sufficiently overawing and compelling to her. But upon arriving, and finding her out, he decided to explain the following morning at the factory—by note, if necessary. To make up for it he decided he might promise to accompany her as far as Fonda on Saturday and give her her present then.

But on Friday morning at the factory, instead of explaining to her with the seriousness and even emotional dissatisfaction which would have governed him before, he now whispered: “I have to break that engagement to-night, honey. Been invited to my uncle’s, and I have to go. And I’m not sure that I can get around afterwards. I’ll try if I get through in time. But I’ll see you on the Fonda car to-morrow if I don’t. I’ve got something I want to give you, so don’t feel too bad. Just got word this morning or I’d have let you know. You’re not going to feel bad, are you?” He looked at her as gloomily as possible in order to express his own sorrow over this.

But Roberta, her presents and her happy last evening with him put aside in this casual way, and for the first time, too, in this fashion, shook her head negatively, as if to say “Oh, no,” but her spirits were heavily depressed and she fell to wondering what this sudden desertion of her at this time might portend. For, up to this time, Clyde had been attentiveness itself, concealing his recent contact with Sondra behind a veil of pretended, unmodified affection which had, as yet, been sufficient to deceive her. It might be true, as he said, that an unescapable invitation had come up which necessitated all this. But, oh, the happy evening she had planned! And now they would not be together again for three whole days. She grieved dubiously at the factory and in her room afterwards, thinking that Clyde might at least have suggested coming around to her room late, after his uncle’s dinner in order that she might give him the presents. But his eventual excuse made this day was that the dinner was likely to last too late. He could not be sure. They had talked of going somewhere else afterwards.

But meanwhile Clyde, having gone to the Trumbulls’, and later to the Steeles’, was flattered and reassured by a series of developments such as a month before he would not have dreamed of anticipating. For at the Steeles’ he was promptly introduced to a score of personalities there who, finding him chaperoned by the Trumbulls and learning that he was a Griffiths, as promptly invited him to affairs of their own—or hinted at events that were to come to which he might be invited, so that at the close he found himself with cordial invitations to attend a New Year’s dance at the Vandams’ in Gloversville, as well as a dinner and dance that was to be given Christmas Eve by the Harriets in Lycurgus, an affair to which Gilbert and his sister Bella, as well as Sondra, Bertine and others were invited.

And lastly, there was Sondra herself appearing on the scene at about midnight in company with Scott Nicholson, Freddie Sells and Bertine, at first pretending to be wholly unaware of his presence, yet deigning at last to greet him with an, “Oh, hello, I didn’t expect to find you here.” She was draped most alluringly in a deep red Spanish shawl. But Clyde could sense from the first that she was quite aware of his presence, and at the first available opportunity he drew near to her and asked yearningly, “Aren’t you going to dance with me at all?”

“Why, of course, if you want me to. I thought maybe you had forgotten me by now,” she said mockingly.

“As though I’d be likely to forget you. The only reason I’m here to-night is because I thought I might see you again. I haven’t thought of any one or anything else since I saw you last.”

Indeed so infatuated was he with her ways and airs, that instead of being irritated by her pretended indifference, he was all the more attracted. And he now achieved an intensity which to her was quite compelling. His eyelids narrowed and his eyes lit with a blazing desire which was quite disturbing to see.

“My, but you can say the nicest things in the nicest way when you want to.” She was toying with a large Spanish comb in her hair for the moment and smiling. “And you say them just as though you meant them.”

“Do you mean to say that you don’t believe me, Sondra,” he inquired almost feverishly, this second use of her name thrilling her now as much as it did him. Although inclined to frown on so marked a presumption in his-case, she let it pass because it was pleasing to her.

“Oh, yes, I do. Of course,” she said a little dubiously, and for the first time nervously, where he was concerned. She was beginning to find it a little hard to decipher her proper line of conduct in connection with him, whether to repress him more or less. “But you must say now what dance you want. I see some one coming for me.” And she held her small program up to him archly and intriguingly. “You may have the eleventh. That’s the next after this.”

“Is that all?”

“Well, and the fourteenth, then, greedy,” she laughed into Clyde’s eyes, a laughing look which quite enslaved him.

Subsequently learning from Frank Harriet in the course of a dance that Clyde had been invited to his house for Christmas Eve, as well as that Jessica Phant had invited him to Utica for New Year’s Eve, she at once conceived of him as slated for real success and decided that he was likely to prove less of a social burden than she had feared. He was charming—there was no doubt of it. And he was so devoted to her. In consequence, as she now decided, it might be entirely possible that some of these other girls, seeing him recognized by some of the best people here and elsewhere, would become sufficiently interested, or drawn to him even, to wish to overcome his devotion to her. Being of a vain and presumptuous disposition herself, she decided that that should not be. Hence, in the course of her second dance with Clyde, she said: “You’ve been invited to the Harriets’ for Christmas Eve, haven’t you?”

“Yes, and I owe it all to you, too,” he exclaimed warmly. “Are you going to be there?”

“Oh, I’m awfully sorry. I am invited and I wish now that I was going. But you know I arranged some time ago to go over to Albany and then up to Saratoga for the holidays. I’m going to-morrow, but I’ll be back before New Year’s. Some friends of Freddie’s are giving a big affair over in Schenectady New Year’s Eve, though. And your cousin Bella and my brother Stuart and Grant and Bertine are going. If you’d like to go, you might go along with us over there.”

She had been about to say “me,” but had changed it to “us.” She was thinking that this would certainly demonstrate her control over him to all those others, seeing that it nullified Miss Phant’s invitation. And at once Clyde accepted, and with delight, since it would bring him in contact with her again.

At the same time he was astonished and almost aghast over the fact that in this casual and yet very intimate and definite way she was planning for him to re├źncounter Bella, who would at once carry the news of his going with her and these others to her family. And what would not that spell, seeing that even as yet the Griffiths had not invited him anywhere—not even for Christmas? For although the fact of Clyde having been picked up by Sondra in her car as well as later, that he had been invited to the Now and Then, had come to their ears, still nothing had been done. Gilbert Griffiths was wroth, his father and mother puzzled as to their proper course but remaining inactive nonetheless.

But the group, according to Sondra, might remain in Schenectady until the following morning, a fact which she did not trouble to explain to Clyde at first. And by now he had forgotten that Roberta, having returned from her long stay at Biltz by then, and having been deserted by him over Christmas, would most assuredly be expecting him to spend New Year’s Eve with her. That was a complication which was to dawn later. Now he only saw bliss in Sondra’s thought of him and at once eagerly and enthusiastically agreed.

“But you know,” she said cautiously, “you mustn’t pay so very much attention to me over there or here or anywhere or think anything of it, if I don’t to you. I may not be able to see so very much of you if you do. I’ll tell you about that sometime. You see my father and mother are funny people. And so are some of my friends here. But if you’ll just be nice and sort of indifferent—you know—I may be able to see quite a little of you this winter yet. Do you see?”

Thrilled beyond words by this confession, which came because of his too ardent approaches as he well knew, he looked at her eagerly and searchingly.

“But you care for me a little, then, don’t you?” he half-demanded, half-pleaded, his eyes lit with that alluring light which so fascinated her. And cautious and yet attracted, swayed sensually and emotionally and yet dubious as to the wisdom of her course, Sondra replied: “Well, I’ll tell you. I do and I don’t. That is, I can’t tell yet. I like you a lot. Sometimes I think I like you more than others. You see we don’t know each other very well yet. But you’ll come with me to Schenectady, though, won’t you?”

“Oh, will I?”

“I’ll write you more about that, or call you up. You have a telephone, haven’t you?”

He gave her the number.

“And if by any chance there’s any change or I have to break the engagement, don’t think anything of it. I’ll see you later—somewhere, sure.” She smiled and Clyde felt as though he were choking. The mere thought of her being so frank with him, and saying that she cared for him a lot, at times, was sufficient to cause him to almost reel with joy. To think that this beautiful girl was so anxious to include him in her life if she could—this wonderful girl who was surrounded by so many friends and admirers from which she could take her pick.